(1 of 1. Originally posted on July 28, 2023 for the prompt “The House’s Secret.”)
The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves just inside the entryway distracted Sarah so that she didn’t see the realtor until he spoke.
“Welcome! Feel free to look around. My name is Brian. Let me know if you have any questions.”
She glanced at the young man, then went back to studying the books. “These aren’t the kind of books I usually see in staged houses. They look like antiques. Where did you get them?”
“Oh, we didn’t place those. They come with the house. The original owner wrote a clause into his will that they are to be considered part of the house, in perpetuity. Whenever the house is sold, there must be a clause in the contract binding the new owner to keep the books in the house, and to add the same clause into the next contract whenever they sell.”
“Really?” Sarah turned to face Brian. “That’s incredible! I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
“Yes, just one of the little quirks.” He had his back to her, fiddling with the plate of cookies next to the front door. He seemed to be avoiding eye contact. “But it’s a solid house. Good value. You won’t find a better deal.”
“I am a little surprised at the price. Such a lovely estate. How has nobody snatched this up already?”
“Well, it is a bit far from the city,” Brian looked over her head as he spoke, glancing to the side randomly as if looking for something. “And it has a small…pest problem. Nothing serious, you understand, but the current owner anticipates you’ll want to clear that up, and offered to lower the asking price as compensation.”
A loud thump came from the back of the house. Brian flinched. His smile looked strained. “I have a list of local exterminators I can share with you.”
“Thanks. I’ll just take a look around for a minute.” Sarah tore herself away from the bookshelves, walking toward the hallway that led to the rest of the house. “Does the plumbing work?”
“Er…yes. Quite well, considering its age.” From the sound of his voice, Brian hadn’t moved from his spot near the front door. “It has its issues at times, but no major problems. It’s an old house.”
High ceilings and low-watt bulbs made the interior of the house dim. Sarah made a mental note to buy higher power lights, if she bought the house. Something felt odd about this place. Most houses she viewed had all the doors open. This place felt closed, dim. But something in the air felt alive.
The first door she tried opened into a small bathroom. It looked clean, but she heard something scurrying when she opened the door. She flushed the toilet. It used a lot of water, but drained well enough.
As she opened the next door into a bedroom, the bathroom door slammed shut. Drafts?
The scene in the bedroom drove all other thoughts from her head.
A bed. A nightstand with a few books on it. One large book on the floor, with a small winged person trying to lift it. That image only lasted a fraction of a second, but it burned into her memory. The next moment, the winged person vanished, and a small, grayish-brown, four-footed creature ran under the bed. It looked almost like a rat, but it had no tail, and the head seemed too big.
Sarah ran and knelt beside the bed. Tiny, round, four-toed footprints marked the floor. She looked under the bed, but couldn’t see anything. She picked up the book to set it back on the nightstand, then did a double-take at the title. On the Care and Feeding of Fairies.
A chill swept through her. The books in the living room had been on related topics. Scholarly-sounding books on sprites, imps, shapeshifters, and other mythic creatures. But the books in this room all mentioned fairies in the title. Not one of them looked like children’s stories, or fiction.
Sarah raced back to the front of the house.
Brian looked up when she burst into view, looking disappointed but not surprised. He opened his mouth to speak, but Sarah beat him to it.
“I’ll take it.”
“I understand. We have other…wait…what?” Brian shook his head. “Did you say you’ll take it?” “Absolutely!” Sarah had to restrain herself from bouncing on her toes in excitement. “How soon can I sign the contract?”